By convicting and sentencing Yakub Memon in the 1993 Bombay serial blasts case, the Indian government lost the opportunity to nail Dawood Ibrahim and his aides. Worse still, it may have lost a golden chance to up its ante against terrorism 20 years ago, by establishing links to state-sponsored terrorism by Pakistan. Considering that he was the brother of Dawood’s aide Tiger Memon, he could have proven invaluable to the Maharashtra Police, since the D-Company continued to control crime syndicates in Mumbai from the Middle East and Pakistan for several years after the blasts.
The special Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (TADA) court convicted and sentenced Yakub to death in 2007. While the Supreme Court (SC) in March last year upheld his sentence, another bench of the apex court stayed Yakub’s execution last week. The man has been behind bars for the past 20 years and his lawyers petitioned the court seeking leniency in the sentence on grounds of excessive delay in the case.
The TADA court convicted Yakub as one of the conspirators in the 1993 Bombay serial blasts for funding the blasts, handling weapons, buying air tickets and providing passports to the blast accused. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) took over the investigation, eight months after the blasts in November 1993 and shortly after the Maharashtra Police filed the first chargesheet. Thirteen coordinated blasts across the country’s financial capital had claimed 257 lives and injured more than 700 people. According to the CBI, which filed 19 supplementary chargesheets, the serial blasts was the D-Company’s response to the Babri Masjid demolition of 6 December 1992.
According to the Maharashtra Police ATS and later the CBI, Dawood Ibrahim hatched the plot with his aides, including Tiger Memon. It was believed that Yakub, an accountant by profession, helped his brother run the affairs of D-Company.
According to the 2013 SC judgment, Yakub’s conviction was based on witness testimonies, confessions of co-accused and co-conspirators, and documentary evidence.
Confessions and other evidence suggested that Tiger Memon worked with hawala operator Mulchand Sampatraj Shah and moved funds through him. Shah confessed in custody that Yakub controlled the account, made payments from it prior and up to the day of the blast and provided air tickets and passports for the conspirators to get away.
On 17 March 1993, five days after the blasts, Tiger Memon summoned Yakub and his family to the United Arab Emirates.
In his only interview with a news organisation in 1994, Yakub went on to say that he was unaware of his brother’s role in the serial blasts until he confronted his brother Tiger Memon a week later. Yakub also said that his and his family members’ Indian passports were held for a year by Tiger Memon since they had deboarded at Karachi from a flight meant for the UAE.
In the interview, Yakub talked about going to Karachi, with details of how they were breezed through Karachi airport by a “Pakistani agent” called Asif without immigration, customs or security checks. He also claimed that his brother accomodated them at a Pakistan-based businessman’s house, helped him set up a business in Karachi and arranged a Pakistani passport for him. However, Yakub’s wife later claimed that the family was under house arrest in Karachi.
According to both Yakub and his wife, he had arrived in India on 17 July 1994. However, official documents suggest he was arrested from Kathmandu in August.
The date of his arrest remains a mystery. There is are also doubts about the nature his involvement in the blasts.
The bigger controversy regarding Yakub, however, was the rumour of a deal between the Government of India and him. It was said that Yakub, his family, and brothers Tiger and Ayub, would be granted amnesty on turning approvers. However, the CBI has always denied this theory. It is possible that Yakub was lured into India by another intelligence agency. It is also unlikely that Dawood would have spared Yakub’s family if indeed the Memons had entered into such a deal.
If Yakub handled hawala transactions for his brother’s criminal syndicate, it is natural that Tiger Memon would have used him to operate the account through which funds for the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts were routed. But, Mulchand Shah’s confession could not establish Yakub’s role in funding the D-Company’s activities.
TADA and its successor Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) allowed convictions based on confessions made to (read: extracted by) a police officer and did not need corroboration before a magistrate as under the Indian Penal Code or the existing anti-terror law — the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
Besides Shah’s confession, Yakub’s driver and two others also claimed in their confessions that Yakub had handled and handed over illegal weapons and grenades that were used by the D-Company in the terror strike.
The court sentenced Yakub to death based on custodial confessions of the co-accused and the SC upheld the verdict in 2013. This was also the first time that a conspirator was sentenced to death in a terror case.
Yakub was the only high-profile accused who was convicted for the serial blasts, the remaining were foot soldiers. Former Dawood aide Abu Salem is still awaiting trial for his role in the case.
There is a striking similarity between Yakub’s case and that of Perarivalan, accused in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case. Earlier this year, the apex court reduced Perarivalan’s sentence by commuting death sentence to life imprisonment, because of a lengthy delay in deciding his mercy petition by the state and Central governments.
But that is not the similarity between the two cases. In Perarivalan’s case, conviction was based on an extracted confession and a receipt for a battery that was used in making the bomb that killed the former prime minister. The receipt was allegedly found in the breast pocket of Perarivalan’s shirt after two days of interrogation.